This idea originated with Hamilton Production Coordinator Shannon Enders, who drew inspiration from a few close personal connections to disability. “These are things that I care about,” she said. “I began having conversations with the Disabled Student Network [DSN], and we began to think about how to use this stage to create awareness and push back against harmful stereotypes.” With this goal in mind, Enders got in touch with Helen Ziobrowski ’25, co-president of the DSN, to bring student perspectives into the fold.
From there, the project came to include Assistant Professor of Theatre Emily Harrison, as well as Leslie De La Rosa ’25, Emmett Dupree ’24, and Alissa Mangiaracina ’24. At the start of the summer, the team met several times to discuss interview techniques — an important step for a project that was to be built around the testimony of people with disabilities. The students then began to conduct interviews, gathering stories and perspectives they have since been developing into a script.
The students reflected positively on this process so far. “With every interview, I’m learning something new about how to approach these situations,” De La Rosa said. “It’s been a great experience to have someone be so vulnerable with you.”
In terms of subjects, the students have spoken with a variety of people in and around their lives. “They’re interviewing not only people who have the experience of having a disability but also caretakers,” Enders explained. “One of our students interviewed a special education teacher, one interviewed a father of a student with a disability … it gives different perspectives on how others are affected by this.”
Ziobrowski described their vision for the project as “using art to evoke social change from within a community by creating a play about the lived experience of disability.” While they also plan to include historical context so that viewers begin on the same page, the show will mainly “share stories that are a little different from what folks might be accustomed to,” Harrison said.
Enders brings to the project a wealth of experience with this kind of theatre, having spent much of her career developing community-oriented shows based on personal interviews. This is the latest in a series of projects she has helped to create about social issues in the Utica area, with earlier productions focusing on race, police brutality, housing, and food insecurity.
As of now, the group plans to put on a staged reading of their script during Family Weekend. From there, “if people want to keep developing it, we will maybe try to do a full production in the next year or so,” Harrison said. But no matter what form the final product takes, the students have already learned much from their work. “I have been getting to know a new side of people on campus and in my community,” De La Rosa said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”